Private House – Watsons Bay NSW

  • Key Information

  • Location: Watsons Bay, Sydney, NSW
  • Photographer: Felix Forest
  • Words: Chris Pearson
  • Styled by: Victoria Collison

Article as featured in Vogue Living Australia:

By infusing her Sydney harbourside home with exquisite details reminiscent of her famous collections, fashion designer Collette Dinnigan has transformed an austere former Masonic lodge into an airy retreat.

Perched above the harbour in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, this home began life in the 1920s as a Masonic lodge. Now it’s a retreat of a different sort for its owners, fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, and her husband, hotelier Bradley Cocks.

With marble floors, pillars and classical architraves, Dinnigan’s “stronghold” has all the solidity its origins would suggest, but she has softened it with an alluring range of more feminine furniture and finishes.

After living in Sydney’s Paddington for 13 years, the designer wanted a sea change. “I have always loved this area,” she says.  “It’s like a fishing village, with a sense of community, and it offered many advantages for our two children [Estella, 11, and Hunter, 3]. You feel like you’re on holiday — sadly, though, I never am.”

Dinnigan busies herself with many projects. Recently she scaled down her fashion business but ramped up her interior design work. “I love that it combines the old and the new, the expensive and the inexpensive,” she says. “Not everything has to be expensive to get a quality look. And you work with a great range of fabrics.”

While she gained fame from her ready-to-wear fashion ranges, many of which adorned the Paris catwalks, this home, purchased in 2015, was never going to be prêt-à-porter. It’s a couture one-off, tailored to Dinnigan’s personality and her take on the world — warm, stylish and whimsical.

With a cavernous 160-square-metre open-plan living area, five-metre-high ceilings, and marble and parquetry flooring, the building gave her generous material to work with.

Converted into a home in 2008 — with the addition of four bedrooms on the second floor and a mezzanine sitting area overlooking Sydney Harbour on the third — it was masculine and dark. “It was like an oversize bachelor pad,” Dinnigan recalls. “I wanted to make the place feminine and family friendly.” Its size was both an asset and a drawback — while perfect for entertaining, the family could be lost in its grand scale.

Her brief? “I wanted to create a European feel like the Cap d’Antibes [on the French Riviera] — I am inspired by old-style hotels of France and Italy,” she says. “I wanted it refined and elegant, and to reflect a love of travelling and collecting.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge was to tame its proportions. First up, Dinnigan installed a recycled French fireplace to make the open plan more intimate and provide a focal point for one of the two sitting areas that break up the space.

On the top storey, she enclosed the mezzanine to create a cosy, informal living area complete with kitchen and family bathroom. The addition of this and another new bathroom created six bathrooms in total, all now in Carrara marble. Storage was a must, especially with children. New panelled cabinetry and recycled panel doors, all white, lend that Riviera ambience.

Only a small amount of Dinnigan’s existing furniture came with her. “It felt like it was from a doll’s house,” she says. “The scale was so wrong.” In the living area, she opted for oversize sofas, tables and French cabinets. Ornate pressed-silver dining chairs once from an Indian palace found a place around an old Danish cheese table in the voluminous dining area, but a Swedish Gustavian sofa from her old home looked petite and was relegated to the guest room.

Throughout are signature touches, not unlike the palettes and delicate patterns that define her fashion ranges. “I love white,” says Dinnigan, “especially blue and white. I will go with a colour and explore every hue, like an ocean of blues from pale blue to cobalt, and add peacock-blue for vibrancy.” Or, like a lick of lipstick, she will add a burst of red. She also favours “dirty”, slightly off colours.

Then you will find flourishes like a Murano chandelier, a textured Paisley curtain and a sinuous carved leg recalling the exquisite detail of her catwalk collections. “It’s European inspiration, but also bohemian — a bit of the gypsy combined with pieces from India and China,” she says.

By contrast, Dinnigan expresses her quirky humour in the artwork. There’s the “crazy and eccentric” Kate Bergin hyper-realist painting in the living area and a life-size whale painting along the adjoining 16-metre wall. “There are few places that could fit in,” she says.

Her flair has created an airy, feminine home on a human scale that is, above all, highly individual. Once oppressive and austere, “it was like living in Moscow, but now it’s like Paris,” says Cocks. Extending the tour of European capitals, the family is now sojourning in Rome. “We just wanted to do something different,” says Dinnigan. Odds are, her unique Sydney sanctuary will soon beckon her home.


Also featured in:

-Marie Claire, Italy

-LivingETC, UK


In the dining area, an old Danish cheese-making table from ORIGINAL FINISH; Indian carved wooden chairs with silver overlay from a maharaja’s palace, bought in Mumbai; STEINWAY grand piano; round 19th-century dining table from CONLEY & CO; light fitting from CHARLES EDWARDS, London. On the wall is Sperm Whale II (2013) by JONATHAN DELAFIELD COOK, from Olsen Irwin Gallery.

image:  Felix Forest     1/14

Atop the living room mantelpiece, Moser crystal vases from CONLEY & CO.

image:  Felix Forest     2/14

Floral sofas covered in green ‘Pavillon Chinois Pear’ fabric from SCHUMACHER; light fitting from CHARLES EDWARDS; marine coral handmade Spanish lamps; antique oriental consoles from ORIENT HOUSE.

image:  Felix Forest     3/14

In the living room, side tables by RALPH LAUREN; GUAXS vases on coffee table.

image:  Felix Forest     4/14

In the kitchen, JOHN OLSEN print above sink; console from MCM HOUSE; silver platters from THE COUNTRY TRADER.

image:  Felix Forest     5/14

In the entry, paintings by DALE FRANK, from Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. Marble console and beaded light fitting both came with the house.

image:  Felix Forest     6/14

In the living area, Practicing the Art of Deception & Other Illusions (2014) by KATE BERGIN, from Mossgreen Gallery.

image:  Felix Forest     7/14

The entryway. Collette wears the Cotton Lace Maxi Dress from the COLLETTE BY COLLETTE DINNIGAN RESORT 2012 collection.

image:  Felix Forest     8/14

In the downstairs bathroom, custom-made vanity by PERRIN & ROWE from The English Tapware Company; photograph by GRANT MATTHEWS (from The Piano series).

image:  Felix Forest     9/14

In the living room, AERIN malachite vessels, box and bowl, all from BECKER MINTY; #1 (2014) painting by JOSEPH MCGLENNON.

image:  Felix Forest     10/14

Another view of the entryway.

image:  Felix Forest     11/14

At the side of the house, landscaping by MARIKO DESIGN.

image:       12/14

In the guest room, GUAXS vases and French 19th-century console from CONLEY & CO.

image:  Felix Forest     13/14

In the main bedroom, curtains, bedhead and valance in ‘Kashmir Paisley’ from PETER DUNHAM
TEXTILES; ‘Empire’ chair and glass-column standard lamp from THE COUNTRY TRADER; ‘Oly Isaac’ sofa from COCO REPUBLIC; amethyst rainbow fluorite dish and vintage brass scalloped bowl from BECKER MINTY; ‘Bendall’ brass vase by ADDISON WEEKS.

image:  Felix Forest     14/14

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